What's Causing Burnout and Which Specialties Are Most Susceptible?

3 minute read​

3 minute read

Physician burnout

In 2011, a national study found that about 45 percent of US physicians met the criteria for burnout. A follow-up survey in 2014 found that the percent of physicians that met the criteria for burnout had increased to 54 percent.

Physicians also reported lower rates of satisfaction with work-life balance in 2014 compared to 2011.

There are several reasons that may explain why burnout is increasing across nearly all specialties. The increase in bureaucratic pressures due to burdensome regulatory programs lead to a feeling of loss of autonomy and take away critical time physicians could be spending with patients. This can cause added stress in physicians.

Another potential reason for increased burnout is the increase in hours at work. A Physicians Foundation 2014 survey found that 81 percent of physicians were overextended or at full capacity, and 44 percent intended to reduce patient load by cutting back on new patients, going part-time, or quitting clinical practice altogether.

Worries about student debt and income are also of concern to physicians. In 2015 a Medscape survey found that many physicians felt that they had an unacceptable degree of debt or sufficient savings for their stage in life.

Nearly half of physicians between the ages of 40 and 44 still reported paying back student debt. In addition, 56 percent reported investing in something that either “did not work out” or “turned out badly.” Financial concerns can quickly cause additional stress and increase the likelihood of experiencing professional burnout.

Are certain specialties more susceptible to burnout?

The highest rates are seen among physicians at the front line of care access, like family medicine, internal medicine, and emergency medicine. Other specialties with higher than the mean levels of burnout include neurology, orthopedic surgery, OB/GYN, otolaryngology, and anesthesiology.

The specialties with the lowest levels of burnout are preventative medicine, dermatology, general pediatrics, pathology, and radiation oncology.

Can anything be done?

There are many things that may help those in all specialties to avoid personal burnout and maintain passion for the integral work that they do.

One important thing is delegation. Physicians have very full lives, and divesting themselves of time-consuming or difficult tasks that can be done by others can have a very positive impact on physicians’ feelings or satisfaction both in and out of work.

Concerns regarding student debt and insufficient savings can be helped by working with a financial advisor to put together a debt repayment, savings, and investment plan. Making the best investments that will bring you the returns that you want is time consuming, so delegation can help you achieve your financial dreams as quickly as possible.

Another consideration is scheduling autonomy. Having the ability to control work hours and scheduling has been demonstrated to play an important role in reducing burnout and improving career satisfaction.

When considering a contract, physicians should decide what their scheduling priorities are and negotiate their contract to better meet those priorities. A contract attorney is often an invaluable resource in helping physicians to hone their scheduling priorities and negotiating more amenable scheduling.